Zimbabwe Inflation Policy Begets Food Crisis

Group of people outside shop's security bars i i

People wave money outside the security bars of a butcher shop in Zimbabwe, where a long-awaited shipment of meat drew a crowd and riot police. Lee hide caption

itoggle caption Lee
Group of people outside shop's security bars

People wave money outside the security bars of a butcher shop in Zimbabwe, where a long-awaited shipment of meat drew a crowd and riot police.

Lee

In July the Zimbabwean government introduced a plan to combat inflation, making shopkeepers cut their prices in half. But the move has led to food shortages. One reporter in Zimbabwe who for security reasons goes only by the name "Lee" looks at the impact of President Robert Mugabe's plan.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Hard times now in Zimbabwe in southern Africa. The economy there is just a wreck. It's got the world's highest inflation - food is scarce, meat especially.

ALEX COHEN, host:

A freelance reporter who's been filing for NPR from Zimbabwe went to a butcher shop in the southern city of Bulawayo.

CHADWICK: For her reports, this reporter uses a pseudonym, Lee, to protect her from government retaliation.

LEE: It's 9:00 a.m. and for the first time in weeks, butchers at a shop in one of the busiest parts of town are back at work. The shop has received a small allotment of beef from a government-owned slaughterhouse - the only source of meat now in a country where most private slaughterhouses have been ordered to close.

Using a high-pitched bandsaw, the workers cut meat behind the counter. The bandsaw is like a siren signaling to the hordes of hungry, unemployed Zimbabweans that precious cheap meat is finally being sold.

They line up outside in droves, waving their 100,000 Zim dollar notes, worth only 40 U.S. cents each, and pressing against the iron security bars separating them from the shop. They are desperate. For the past several weeks, they have eaten nothing but beans, vegetables and corn meal.

One of the shop's workers who serves customers behind the register describes their desperation and his fear.

Unidentified Man #1: There was a lot of confusion. Most people want the meat.

LEE: We speak after hours at the back of the store. He asks not to be identified because he is talking to a journalist not approved by the Zimbabwe government.

Unidentified Man #1: So everybody wanted to get inside the butcher (unintelligible) they can break down some doors (unintelligible)...

LEE: The shop owners will only let people inside 10 at a time to avoid a deadly crush. Earlier this month, two people - a young boy and a security guard - were killed in a stampede of shoppers rushing to buy sugar. The workers eye the crowd warily.

Unidentified Man #1: And because there is nothing, they all want.

LEE: The owner sits from an overturned crate inside the shop's walk-in safe. He too is worried about talking to a member of the Western press and asks to remain anonymous.

Unidentified Man #2: We're issuing 500 grams per customer, which doesn't help, because these guys have got families of six and seven.

LEE: Five hundred grams is barely one pound of meat, not nearly enough for one full meal. Soon a fight breaks out outside between the customers. Someone has pushed in at the front of the line.

(Soundbite of fighting)

LEE: It is then that the owner calls the police.

Unidentified Man #2: If they come through, you're not going to stop them. There's nothing for them to eat. They're eating mielie, melon and vegetables, that's all. They're not getting any protein.

LEE: Around 20 members of the country's feared riot police armed with batons quickly arrived. They soon subdue the angry crowd with some violent swings, but it doesn't take long for the police to become enticed by the meat as well. They too push to the front of the line.

Unidentified Man #2: They are coming in first, buying the meat. Then they disappear and they leave us with the crowd.

LEE: This butcher shop once sold between eight and ten head of cattle each day. Today they sold less than half that because that's all they could get. Soon all the meat is gone and the bandsaw is silent. The crowd disperses quickly. Most of the customers are off to find another line to stand in for another basic commodity.

Unidentified Man #2: It's worse to have it because you have this hungry mob. It's better not have it. If you don't have it, you don't have any stress. You just sit quietly and wait for something to happen.

CHADWICK: It's 11:00 a.m. and the shop is closing for the day. The owner and his workers begin their clean-up. They're glad to have been back in business, if only for a few hours, but are dreading what will happen next time they have meat to sell.

CHADWICK: That's reporter Lee in government-restricted Zimbabwe. NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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